Reviewed by Deborah Banasko
I was so excited to review this Coding Critters toy from Learning Resources that I had to remind myself that it was for my children and not me! It’s the first time that we have played with a coding toy, and we were delighted to receive the bunny version just in time for Easter. This screen free toy won the Right Start bronze award for puzzles and games, so we all had high expectations.
My children are ages 9, 6 and 2 and a half, so they all had a play. The toy comes in a brightly coloured box with the full set up displayed on the front, and a little window so that you can see the actual coding element (Bopper Bunny).
There are 22 pieces in the box, so as well as Bopper there is a white baby bunny on wheels called Hop and a grey baby bunny called (you guessed it!) Hip who sits down. You also have a cart that can be attached to Bopper whilst the baby bunnies rest inside, plus there is a bunny hole-come-slide that can be raised with a leaver so that you can push Hop down the slope. There is a tree-tunnel that Bopper can move through, with a swing attached to a branch so that you can program Bopper to push baby Hip on the swing. The swing can be relocated and positioned under the tunnel also. Finally there are arrow cards to assist with the coding. Batteries aren’t included so you will need three AAA’s. Like all of these toys, it works much better on a hard surface.
It took me me perhaps 10 minutes maximum to read the instructions and work out what we had to do. It was pretty easy to follow. There are two modes of play; the play mode and the coding mode. To enter play mode you press Bopper’s nose until the white circular button on her back light up. You can then use the arrow buttons to perform specific actions; dance, patrol, sleep and eat. You can pat Bopper’s back by pressing the light button, so in this mode it is more like an interactive pet. This is great fun as you can’t make any mistakes in play mode, so my children loved to treat Bopper like a real rabbit and just have fun watching her move around. My 2 year old was especially excited about being able to make his bunny do “tricks”, he just took a little while to realise he needed to stop pressing the nose to change modes but he’s still very young to grasp this concept.
Press the nose for two seconds to remove the light and enter the coding mode, so that the arrows on her back now become directional. This activity can be led by the story book as you program a sequence of up to 30 steps or actions. You use the arrow cards spaced out in front of Bopper as depicted in the story, then program these actions into Bopper so that you are acting out the story with the characters as you read. For example if I want Bopper to push the swing (depending how far from the swing she is) I could press forward twice, back twice, forward twice and so on. She can move under the tunnel and also find carrots, and even switch into play mode to eat one. Bopper will pull a carrot or Hop (nose to nose) along due to magnets within the toys, and this is a really sweet touch.
There’s a real satisfaction when you see your child succeed in making the bunny do what they intended, so you do find regular little boosts to your child’s confidence with this toy. Equally it’s also rewarding to watch my child get a little frustrated but persevere until they crack a certain sequence. As your child grasps the idea you can introduce some of your own problem solving patterns or even obstacle courses as we have, so they have to think what to program in to achieve the desired movement. The story book is the introduction really so there is quite a lot of scope with this toy.
One slightly disappointing element for me was the swing. Although I love that you can move it between two different positions on the tree, the swing fixture is very loose and easily falls off when Bopper pushes the swing. In honestly, it’s a balancing act simply getting it to stay in position with Hip in place, which is a shame as it’s a really lovely idea and an excellent design with a curved “seat” to sit the bunny into. I do wonder whether we have a faulty item as I wouldn’t imagine this design flaw to have gone un-noticed. We are going to try to fix it into just one location permanently, or rather Daddy is!
You can add extra “Popper characters” to the set (see Learning Resources site) which launch smaller animals forward from their little house, leading onto the idea of ramps and knocking down blocks, so this is something I’m quite keen to look into buying to enhance the playing capabilities. It is also tempting to get a second full set with a pup, dinosaur or kitten to be honest as they all have different accessories, but knowing my kids that will lead to planned collisions!
I would personally say that, to get you money’s worth out of a toy like this, buy it when your child is aged 3-5. They may not totally grasp the concept at aged 3 and be more concerned with making Bopper a pet as my youngest was, but you can build on the basics as time goes on and at least work on counting out how many steps Bopper will move.
I think that the age range up to 8 is fair; whilst I wouldn’t buy this for an 8 year old that isn’t to say that they wouldn’t still play with it at that stage as I do believe that they would. My 9 year old was certainly intrigued and keen to crack different more complex moves, whilst the 6 year old soon got the hang of it when he bothered to listen to instructions.
As well as the coding-based play my children also loved the three little characters and made their own game up with them. Both my boys and daughter love playing with the bunnies. It feels like three toys in one, and with this in mind the £40 price does feel more than fair.
It’s a cute screen-free little toy to get for Easter if you like to get something other than chocolate, and a good addition to home learning for a pre-schooler or reception aged child. Personally, I feel that my toddler is missing out on so many of the usual developmental steps by spending the best part of a year at home, so I like to introduce educational toys whenever possible. Whilst he may be on the young side for this toy, he is starting to get the hang of it and can certainly practice his counting skills as we program Bopper together.
I would score this coding toy 4.5 stars out of 5; it is a fantastic 3 in 1 early coding toy for pre-school children with plenty of scope for imaginative play. My score would have been higher except the swing was a slight issue for us, but certainly not a deal breaker.
This product can be purchased from Learning Resources here.